Memory Scrapbook

28th December 2007

More small differences between Argentina and San Francisco:

People don’t really throw anything out. There are two “vintage” stores in our neighborhood, and pickings are slim. One of the owners told me she goes to New York to get things, because Argentines pass down their clothing or use the fabric to make something new.

Perhaps because of the above, there’s a rich sense of creativity in the way Argentines dress and the things they make. So many of the objects in shops are completely novel to me.

Especially mid-day, about a quarter of restaurants and bars have no music. It’s peaceful.

There’s dog shit everywhere on the sidewalks, presumably because the dog walkers take out six or seven dogs at a time.

The ideal ice cream cone scoop comes to a point on top, because they don’t keep ice cream as cold here. All the giant pictures of idealized ice cream in heladerias have scoops that look like gnome hats.

They open presents on Christmas Eve, and some families light candles and make wishes before blowing them out. Everyone sets off fireworks at midnight, so the city sounds like New Year’s at home with all the explosions and shouting.

Whipped cream is more the consistency of whipped butter.

Lots of shop owners have a high fear of fraud about Internet sales.

“Hypoallergenic” products are often perfumed.

There are little garbage cans next to the toilets so you can throw away your toilet paper instead of flushing it.

Thermoses are everywhere in shops because people need them to keep their matê warm.

What nutella is to much of Europe, dulce de leche is to Argentina. It’s caramelized brown sugar, milk, and sweetened evaporated milk, and they put it on bread, pancakes, ice cream, whatever. The texture is unbelievable, like liquid silk.

8 thoughts on “Memory Scrapbook

  1. Jules

    Dulce de leche is AMAZING. I am drooling right now. This memory scrapbook is like getting little postcards from your travels, and it makes me want to get on a plane to Italy today so that by tomorrow I can be posting some of my own on my blog.
    House of Jules

  2. heather

    This is so great. I love that you’re keeping lists of these little eccentricities…the kinds of things that go unquestioned in any given society because they’re just so normal. It makes me wonder what an Argentinian living in San Francisco might notice.

    Oh, and I second the dulce de leche accolades. My roommate traveled to Chile and came back infatuated. Despite the warnings on the label, you can boil a can of sweetened condensed milk for about an hour and get a similar effect.

  3. Amanda

    It’s been over 15 years since I was in Argentina and I still fantasize about dulce de leche ice cream!

    Two suggestions: empanadas fresh from some little place on the corner and taking an empty glass bottle of coke down to the store and having it filled up. Fresh Coke is AMAZING.

  4. ambika

    I remember really looking forward to the thrift shopping when I got home from Prague. It’s the same thing it sounds like–everyone hangs on to everything for the duration of their lives and generally hand things down whether it’s wanted or not.

  5. Tami

    I’ll be an argentinian in San Francisco pretty soon and I can’t wait to start noticing little things there. I miss having an almacen close by and I was telling about the fireworks and the shouting on Christmas Eve to my brother in law the other day. I love Nutella but Dulce the Leche is my first love. Thanks for bringing back all these great memories Maggie!! We should get together when I move and talk about Argentina all day long over mates.

  6. Michele

    My question is how do you know which neighborhoods to stay in, do you have any good places to rent and places to go and see while you’re there?

    Dulce the Leche is a favorite topping at my friends whom are from South America.

  7. Thom

    A co-worker of mine, who is Argentinian, brings me back dulce de leche whenever she travels. I couldn’t believe the texture the first time she gave me some. My wife generally isn’t a fan of the kind in the States, but loved the stuff from Argentina.

    “‘Hypoallergenic’ products are often perfumed.” is one of the funniest things I’ve read recently…

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